What is the MLB lockout and what does it mean for the Cleveland Guardians?

A total freeze in free agency and player transactions could be problematic for a team looking to remain competitive.

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For the first time in 25 years, Major League Baseball has shut down. The sport’s owners locked out the players at midnight entering Thursday, initiating baseball’s first work stoppage in 26 years, and the ninth in the sport’s history. Free agency and other player transactions are frozen, and will likely remain so until a new deal is reached. The major league portion of the Winter Meetings are canceled as well.

Players and owners bargained during the last three days but the gap between the parties was so wide entering the week that they had virtually no chance to reach a deal in time. In a best-case scenario, this week’s conversations would have reached a point where owners would have allowed negotiations to continue without a lockout for some period of time. But for a while now, a work stoppage had appeared to be an inevitability. Players have grown increasingly dissatisfied with team behaviors and that the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that enables at least some of them, and MLB owners have shown little interest in making the concessions the players seek.

Talks broke off Wednesday, well before the current CBA expired. The MLB declined to counter an economics proposal the player's union made on Tuesday unless the MLBPA agreed in advance to drop a number of key demands, including on the time it takes players to get to free agency and revenue sharing between owners.In some areas, such as the luxury-tax threshold and minimum salaries, the MLB made an offer of increases, but not to the satisfaction of the players.

In other areas, such as how long it takes players to get to arbitration, the MLB has shown greater resistance. The MLBPA has proposed allowing players to get to arbitration after two years rather than three, which the league has been adamant in saying it won’t allow. MLB is also uninterested in making changes to the revenue-sharing system between owners. Players want to see less money move through that system, which it believes goes too far in keeping teams afloat without having to invest in players.

The sides plan to continue to negotiate, and the lockout could well be resolved prior to the start of spring training. That's supposed to be in early February, with the regular season beginning at the end of March. Technically, the lockout could end prior to a new deal being reached if there is legal intervention, or if the league chooses to lift the lockout, but it appears neither scenario is likely at this point.

“This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive,” wrote Rob Manfred in a statement early Thursday morning. “It’s simply not a viable option. From the beginning, the MLBPA has been unwilling to move from their starting position, compromise, or collaborate on solutions.”

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Harold Ramirez being traded from Cleveland to the Chicago Cubs was one of several minor moves the Guardians made prior to the league's labor stoppage.

The MLBPA’s statement said that the lockout “was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure Players into relinquishing rights and benefits, and abandoning good-faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not just Players, but the game and industry as a whole.” Tony Clark, head of the MLBPA said in his own statement. “This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the Players’ resolve to reach a fair contract. We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership.”

So, with the MLB now in a deadlock, what does this exactly mean for the Cleveland Guardians? In anticipation of the lockdown, Cleveland had have been making transactions at a faster than normal rate as they try to improve their roster before there was a shut down of all offseason transactions. The non-tender date, for instance, has been moved to Tuesday to avoid being neutralized if a lockout is declared. It means teams must offer unsigned players on their 40-man roster with fewer than six years in the majors contracts for the 2022 season. If not, they become free agents.

The Guardians have seven eligible players. They had nine, but right-hander Nick Wittgren was outrighted off the roster and elected to become a free agent, while outfielder Harold Ramirez was designated for assignment and traded to the Chicago Cubs. Catcher Austin Hedges, shortstop Amed Rosario, DH Franmil Reyes, Bradley Zimmer, Cal Quantrill and Josh Naylor are still eligible for arbitration.

The Guardians have already turned over 28% of their 40-man roster by adding 11 new players. They made a couple of small trades with Ramirez going to the Cubs and right-hander J.C. Mejia heading to the Milwaukee Brewers. Lefties Kyle Nelson and Scott Moss, who both were removed from the 40-man roster in order to make room for newcomers, were claimed on waivers by Arizona and Philadelphia, respectively. Cleveland also signed catcher Sandy Leon to a minor-league deal, but they have yet to address their biggest need overall need: offense.

The Guardians could use upgrades in left and right field, second base, catcher and perhaps some help at first base if Bobby Bradley continues to struggle against left-handers. With the work stoppage now in place, Cleveland is unable to address any of these needs as they look to bounce back from a fairly mediocre season under a new moniker.

“Our goal is to improve the team prior to opening day, whenever that may be,” said Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Guardians president of baseball operations.

Thankfully, Guardians executives under the Dolan ownership have learned to bide their time when it comes to offseason acquisitions. They have seldom been declared MLB’s offseason champions. So, waiting to improve the roster is something that Cleveland is already used to. Hopefully, it's soon and they can make some more minor moves in order to push this team back towards the direction of the playoffs.

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